Lessons from Robert Mugabe’s death

AT the ripe age of 95, death has finally taken away Zimbabwe’s former leader, Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Initially hailed as a courageous freedom fighter, who led the guerrilla movement that liberated his country from decades of white minority rule, Mugabe died in exile in Singapore last Friday after losing the battle with his failing health. Mugabe’s role as a liberation fighter resonates with the African elite, but the ordinary Zimbabwean is still feeling the effects of his 37-year misrule.At independence, Zimbabwe, with a pleasant climate, was regarded as a favourite destination by global investors. With ample investment in education and health services, the Southern African country had a life expectancy of 60 years and a buoyant economy. His ZANU-PF-led government embarked on robust economic policies: expenditure on education and health tripled between 1979 and 1990, while a living minimum wage was introduced. The country once had one of Africa’s highest adult literacy rates that, at a lower 83.6 per cent today as estimated by UNESCO, is still among the top 10 compared to Nigeria’s 59.6 per cent. Its health care delivery system, in pursuit of a constitutional guarantee of access to health, witnessed marked improvements that saw massive penetration of basic health services to the rural areas, where most of the population resided. Of the 1,848 health facilities, 86 per cent were located in the countryside by 2015.His rule became a byword for dictatorship, corruption and inefficiency which resulted in starvation, disease, brutality and the collapse of the country’s currency. Under him, hyperinflation became rife; hospitals ran out of medicine; tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, and other diseases spread like wildfire. Cholera fatality rates were 10 times higher than the rest of the world. In short, Mugabe bequeathed a failing state legacy to Zimbabwe.But will African leaders learn any useful lessons from Mugabe’s rise and fall? Like Mugabe, Cameroon’s Paul Biya, who “won” his seventh presidential election last year, has already spent 37 years in office. Another sit-tight ruler is Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who shot his way into office in a military coup in 1979. He has the title of the longest ruler in Africa, with the prospect of outlasting the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, who was consumed in the 2011 Arab Spring revolution after spending 42 years in office. Also toppled in the Arab Spring was the Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, a man who came to office after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. The 91-year-old former leader had ruled for 40 years before he was kicked out by the military.


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